Falling On The Sword

02-Simeon

I have often wondered where the thorns are for the roses in our lives.  For some who are looking for meaning there is an expectation that meaning and destiny needs to be forged into something that is only sweet and God forbid bittersweet.

 “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce)[ so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35).

Here is where the bittersweet comes in.  In what was written by Luke previously could be reduced to a nice Christian Hallmark card of a sweet old man who holds and blesses sweet baby Jesus who would grow up to be a sweet blessing for the world.  Do those perceptions still hold true? Yes but not by themselves.  The Good news has to have the hard news on its coattails.

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him— It is an important starting point in being a disciples of Jesus, which is what Joseph and Mary would amount to, in being amazed.  I am not talking about goosebumps.  They come and go in if we rely on those for our turning points in the Divine we will be putting God into a performance position.  God is not our clown but where his thinking is above our thinking it will inherently blow our minds.

and Simeon blessed them—-  If there could be any last anesthetic for the hard news of being a disciple of Jesus it is that God intends to bless you.  He wants to bless the world and will preface words and deeds with that bias.

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel—- This is notable when we consider that Simeon has now directed his comments to only Mary the mother who would likely be the only one of those two when Jesus would come into his ministry.  Mary is a humble young woman in a backwater town but of great significance as we have seen in the eyes of God.  Being full of grace as we can see in the original Greek as a past and completing act she stands as an icon of God flipping over the paradigms that the carnal mind would be predisposed to.

and to be a sign that will be contradicted—  Jesus would be intertwined with the message of the cross.

but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

It is fitting that Mary get this message.  She had been told “The Lord is with you” and Blessed are you among women” which historically were military conquest phrases.  Through Jesus who she had born the universal message of the Cross through the Church would rock the world.

and you yourself a sword will pierce—- But first Jesus and the cross would rock her world.  For some who have seen the Passion of the Christ they come away that it could also be of Mary’s passion in seeing her son die on the cross.  Her hope was in God but her heart was broken that her son would suffer.  But for the good of the world would she still cooperate with that?  In a way she did later when she brokered the logistics for Jesus to start his ministry in changing water to wine.

so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed— This is important because Jesus in the gospel brings in many turning points who encounter the message and what it calls for.  This “sign” would change everything in conversion because the word of God exposes those things that are and are not of God and necessitates our own turning points.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12).

As Christ is experienced in the fullest, much is illuminated.  The soul and spirit is the psyche of our lives versus the God-life that is given to us.  The joints and marrow is about our means of accessing life and fulfillment.  Are the means ordered or disordered?  And as for reflections and thoughts of the heart, that is the crux of treasuring in our hears the baby Jesus, the Nazarene Jesus, The Risen Jesus and the Coming Jesus.  We must always remember, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

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Mary–Warrior Queen (Forget Xena)

Annunciation

It takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen.  That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved but not so if one is divine.   But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different.

Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary.  Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human.  She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed.  But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender.

There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness.  God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful but struggled righteously and unrighteously.  God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense.

  “And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).

Hail [Rejoice]— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”.  If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction.  Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.

Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection.  The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17).  Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’.  Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives).  What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now.

Full of Grace—  The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175).  Or, as I have seen in my journey into the Catholic Church, she was too full of grace to have room for anything else.  Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype as the Theortokos (God-bearer) for what the Bride of Christ is supposed to be.  The words I have commenting on here and others to come in the infancy era of Jesus indicated she was without sin.  The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point.

So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated by—-

The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—-  This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant.  They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation.  Mary was to be used, launched by covenant, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that.  She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle.  So there was some fear there.

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was for that grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with one undeniable fact—  the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.

Gabriel— then gives her a micro-blueprint of the gospel and what church is supposed to be like.

you will conceive—  as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation.

you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”.   The Incarnation means salvation is some way yet to be revealed.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—-  Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David.

and of his kingdom there will be no end——  The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus a continuation.

On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects?  Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our early lives.  These are ways that God initiates to us for full participation.  But in some ways our calling is not as good as Mary’s in that moment.  She was to carry God in her womb.  If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in our hearts. Could that be better?  Could that be possible?  What’s stopping you?